I am glad I saw the television series Unorthodox before I read the book of the same name that inspired it- the memoir of Deborah Feldman. In the filmed version Deborah’s role is played by a very talented actress Shira Haas and her name is not Deborah but Esty.
The series and book are about an orthodox Jewish woman living in New York who leaves her strict Hasidic community in order to start a new life for herself.
The television series begins in a dramatic fashion as Esty is planning her daring escape. The viewer’s interest is engaged almost immediately.
By contrast I found the book’s opening chapters somewhat slow as Feldman gives a long first person narration of her life as a child. She has been raised by her grandparents.
In the book Deborah has a child of her own when she leaves the community. In the film version Esty is pregnant.
I will be honest and say that while I greatly admire Deborah Feldman for what she did in seeking a new life where she would no longer live with the oppression of her misogynist religious community I felt more empathy and connection with Esty the character in the movie.
I also liked the way the film version portrayed the other characters in a more balanced way so we could see their positive traits and their struggles and understand why they acted as they did. In the movie version there weren’t strict ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ the way there seemed to be in the book.
Perhaps I was also influenced by the fact that after I read Unorthodox I found many criticisms of the book online written by people who knew Deborah Feldman and her family and say she distorted and embellished and some cases outright lied about her past experiences.
In the film version one does not need to worry about authenticity because it is first and foremost a dramatic story. As the advertising for the television series makes clear it is only loosely based on Deborah Feldman’s book.
I would highly recommend the television series Unorthodox. If you have to choose to either watch it or read the book I’d definitely watch the series.
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